Groenkloof, the name of the area in which Darling is situated, dates back to 1682 when standard bearer Oloff Bergh, pioneer explorer, undertook a journey to the North through the heavy sands of the West Coast and discovered that it was an extremely fertile region.
The area was used by the Dutch East India Company to graze their cattle and supply their ships with fresh produce. Salt pans supplied some of the cleanest, whitest and finest salt in the colony. In the 1700/1800s the Groenkloof was a popular game resort, abounding with small game.
Inhabitants of the Groenkloof were originally part of the Swartland congregation established in 1745. In 1845, the Swartland Church Council received a letter in which 180 inhabitants and landowners of the Groenkloof District, part of the Swartland and Saldanha requested to be given permission to build their own church.
By the beginning of the 18th century some 29 cattle farmers occupied farms in the Groenkloof, of which 19 belonged to the governments contracted butchers. Langfontein was one of these farms. On 12 February 1853 the Darling Village Trustees Board succeeded in buying Langfontein Farm for a village and church (for 50.000 guilder or 1.250 pounds). The town was named after Charles Henry Darling who came to the Cape as lieutenant-governor in 1851.
A government notice of 16 August 1853 reads as follows: “His Honour the lieutenant-governor has consented to the name of Darling being assigned to the projected village upon the farm Langfontein situated in the Division of Malmesbury.”
Charles Henry Darling was born in Nova Scotia as son of Major-general CH Darling. He underwent military training but did mainly administrative work. In 1853 he became Lt-governor in the Cape Colony, where he had to manage the Civilian Government in Cape Town, while Governor Cathcart was away at war on the Eastern Border. After Cathcart’s departure for the Crimean War, Darling headed the Cape government.
At the historical occasion of the opening of the first Cape Parliament, Darling was a central figure. He later became governor of Newfoundland, Jamaica and Victoria. He was married 3 times and died on 25 January 1870 at Cheltenham in England. His name was also given to the bridge over the Breede River near Bainskloof, to an important street in Cape Town as well as to streets in several towns in the Cape Province.
From the earliest years the rich tapestry of flowers that cover the fields surrounding Darling during spring each year overwhelmed travellers through the Greonkloof. James Backhouse wrote in 1840, “There are no flowers like those at Darling.” In 1915 Mrs Suzanne Malan, the predikant’s wife and Mr Frederick Duckitt of Waylands founded the Darling Wildflower Society and the renowned annual Darling Wildflower Show has been held virtually every year since its inception in 1917.
Darling was known not only for its flowers, but also for its game, salt and butter. In 1899 two Swedes, Nils Georg Moller and G Threnstrom settled in Darling and started their own creamery here. By 1906 the business had become too large for the Swedes and was taken over by the farmers who formed a corporation. A bigger factory was built in 1914, which served the creamery, until a modern factory was built in Paarden Eiland in 1950.
The Darling Museum was established to preserve the history of the butter making industry in Darling and has grown into a charming reflection of 19th century village and farm lifestyle.